Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Francis Walsingham Employs Espionage to Suppress Catholicism (Theonomy Applied)

Sir Francis Walsingham (1532?-1590) was Queen Elizabeth's secretary of state from 1573-1590. He was committed to the existence of a "truly godly commonwealth,"[1] and during his career, he would become "the leading advocate of the Protestant cause in English politics."[2] 

As a promoter of the reformation, Walsingham used his influence to protect Christianity both nationally and internationally. This included protecting the Puritans from the harshness of the Bishops of the Anglican state-church, as well as attempts to protect the Huguenots in France from persecution. 

He also served as Elizabeth's spymaster, and is considered by some to be the father of modern espionage. Of high priority for Walsingham was to quell Catholic machinations that threatened to subvert Protestant England: "For Walsingham, stamping down on Catholic subversion and conspiracy was a very personal mission, verging on religious devotion."[3] 
Queen Elizabeth

Catholicism was a very real threat, both religiously and politically. Intensifying the threat was Pope Pious V's Papal Bull in 1570 that encouraged Catholics to revolt—under pain of excommunication:
[W]e do out of the fullness of our apostolic power declare the foresaid Elizabeth to be a heretic and favourer of heretics, and her adherents in the matters aforesaid to have incurred the sentence of excommunication and to be cut off from the unity of the body of Christ.
4. And moreover (we declare) her to be deprived of her pretended title to the aforesaid crown and of all lordship, dignity and privilege whatsoever.
5. And also (declare) the nobles, subjects and people of the said realm and all others who have in any way sworn oaths to her, to be forever absolved from such an oath and from any duty arising from lordship, fealty and obedience; and we do, by authority of these presents, so absolve them and so deprive the same Elizabeth of her pretended title to the crown and all other the abovesaid matters. We charge and command all and singular the nobles, subjects, peoples and others afore said that they do not dare obey her orders, mandates and laws. Those who shall act to the contrary we include in the like sentence of excommunication.[4]

Walsingham's Spy System

As Elizabeth's spymaster, Walsingham was extremely well-informed, having international eyes and ears:
No one in English government circles had stronger personal connections with the movers and shakers on the continent or was better informed of events there.[5]
On Walsingham's spy tactics, Walton writes:
His multifaceted operation brought together under centralized management covert action, counterintelligence, and espionage. Walsingham's main methods of collection were having his operatives make direct observations and intercepting written messages, such as letters, military orders, or diplomatic dispatches.[6] 
And Miller writes,
To serve his needs, Walsingham constructs the most elaborate spy system in the world. ... Rumor has it that he maintains hundreds of spies on his payroll; in 1582 they number at least five hundred. ... Sensitive material passes back and forth across the country from clusters of agents, penned in invisible ink concocted of milk and lemon juice, disguised in cipher and crypt. Messages are intercepted. Smuggled documents are ripped out of the lining of clothing, the pages of books, the false bottoms of trunks, the soles of shoes. Walsingham posts searchers at every English port and along mail routes. Agents report to him from Rome, Venice, Milan, and Florence. The Vatican and the Spanish Court. The Low Countries, France, and Germany. Constantinople, Algiers, and Tripoli.[7] 

The cipher code of Mary, Queen of Scots. While she
was a prisoner in England, Mary's letters were
intercepted by Walsingham's spy network,
proving her guilt in the Babington Plot.

Walsingham versus the Catholic Priests

On how to deal with Catholic priests who promoted subversive Catholic doctrines, a State paper titled "The Means to Stay the Declining in Religion" offered the following suggestions:
There are of these seminaries two sorts, some learned and politic withal, and of great persuasion; others simple, having neither zeal, wit, nor learning.
For the first, they are to be sent to Wisbech, or some suchlike place, where they may be under honest keeping, and be restrained from access and intelligence; for that being banished, they might do a great deal of harm.
For the second, they may be banished, as others before, upon penalty to be executed if they return.
Such as were banished and are returned are to be presently executed.[8]
Elizabeth's Council adopted this policy. In a letter to a friend and ally, Walsingham works to enforce these sanctions against the Catholic Priestsfew of which he doubts are "fit to do good:"[9]  
My lords do mean to take order with the seminary priests by banishment of some, executing of others, and by committing the rest to Wisbech, or some such-like place, under some honest keeper. I have thought good to send you a register of their names; to the end you may confer with the party you wot of, and to desire him to set down their intentions to do harm in their several kinds.
I take it there will be found very few of them fit to do good. And so I commit you to God. At Barnes, the 25th December 1586.[10] 

In his relentless determination to defend the land from
the threat of popery, Walsingham contributed to
driving Catholicism underground.

Popery driven underground in Walsingham's England

By his relentless determination to defend the land from the threat of popery, Walsingham contributed to driving Catholicism underground. In The Queen's Agent: Sir Francis Walsingham and the Rise of Espionage in Elizabethan England, the author (a Catholic sympathizer) writes the following:
How did Catholics experience their religion in Walsingham's England? ... One by one the altars were broken up, the devotional images profaned and holy wells filled with rubbish. The 1567 the Reformation caught up with Aysgarth, a village in Wensleydale which offered a home to the rood screen from Jervaulx Abbey following the dissolution of the monasteries. Parishioners who had hidden their 'idols' and 'old papistical books' were forced to burn them and stand barefoot in white sheets in a public shaming ritual.
Deprived of its traditional places, the practice of Catholicism was forced beyond consecrated ground. Missionary priests celebrated mass in safe-houses, barns and farmyards. In the West Country, sheets were spread on hedgerows at crossroads to indicate when and where to congregate. Country houses of this period often had their own chapels attached, but government surveillance made them too visible for Catholics to use. ...
Of the three hundred-odd seminary priests who had come to England by 1586, thirty-three had been executed, fifty were in prison and another sixty had been arrested or banished. This was an unsustainable wastage rate. ... Walsingham's pursuivants or 'priest hunters' could search properties for hours or even days ... 
Many Catholics, however, had little or no chance of attending mass. ... Well over half the missionary priests who came to England in Elizabeth's reign spent a period behind bars before being deported or executed.[11]

Mary, Queen of Scots on the way to her execution for her guilt
in the Babington Plot.

The Babington Plot

The most famous instance of Walsingham's skills as a spy was the exposure of the Babington Plot, which aimed to murder Queen Elizabeth, invade England with a Spanish army, free the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, and put her on the thronea conspiracy that Mary herself was involved in. 
In 1585 Walsingham began to employ a double agent, a priest in touch with Mary, who gave him a copy of all letters she received and sent. A local brewer, also in Walsingham's pay, smuggled the letters in the false bottom of a beer bottle, in and out of Chartley Manor where Mary was imprisoned. 
Mary, Queen of Scots
A group of Catholic gentlemen led by Anthony Babington plotted to kill Elizabeth and wrote to Mary to plan her escape. Walsingham had tricked Mary into thinking that her way of sending and receiving coded messages was completely secret. This idea was actually Walsingham's, so as soon as Mary used the system, he was ready to decode and copy all the messages. The letters provided the evidence to hang the plotters and prove that Mary was involved too.[12]  
For her role in the conspiracy, Mary, Queen of ScotsElizabeth's cousinwould be executed. This was not the typical execution, but an execution of a monarch; and perhaps even a precedent for the regicide of her tyrannical grandson, Charles I. 

As for Walsingham, he had been instrumental in ridding the realm of some of its most dangerous enemies; England was made safer from the ongoing threat of Catholic rule.


[1] Derek Wilson, Sir Francis Walsingham: Courtier in an Age of Terror (London: Constable & Robinson, 2007), no page number, being a preview page in Google Books.
[2] Paul E. J. Hammer, The Polarisation of Elizabethan Politics: The Political Career of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, 1585 - 1597 (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 76.
[3] Robert Hutchinson, Elizabeth's Spymaster: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War That Saved England (New York, NY: Thomas Dunne Books, 2006), 61.
[4] "POPE PIUS V'S BULL AGAINST ELIZABETH (1570)," TudorHistory.org. Retrieved June 9, 2014 from http://tudorhistory.org/primary/papalbull.html.
[5] Wilson, Sir Francis Walsinghamno page number, being a preview page in Google Books.
[6] Timothy Walton, Challenges in Intelligence Analysis: Lessons from 1300 BCE to the Present (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 50.
[7] Lee Miller, Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony (Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2013), no page number, being a preview page in Google Books.
[8] Cited in Frederick George Lee, The Church Under Queen Elizabeth: An Historical Sketch (London: Thomas Baker, 1896), 211.
[9] Ibid., 212.
[10] Cited in Ibid., 212.
[11] John Cooper, The Queen's Agent: Sir Francis Walsingham and the Rise of Espionage in Elizabethan England (New York, NY: Pegasus Books, 2012), 142-145.
[12] Steve Arman, Simon Bird, and Malcolm Wilkinson, Reformation and Rebellion 1485 - 1750, ed., Rosemary Rees (Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers, 2002), 28.

photo of Elizabeth and Walsingham: 
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Note about the Theonomy Applied Series: In discussing any particular law, we do not necessarily endorse every aspect of that law as biblical, whether it be the prohibition, sanction, court procedure, etc. Rather, we are merely showing the more or less attempt to apply biblical law in history, whether or not that application was fully biblical. Moreover, in quoting any particular law, we do not necessarily consider those who passed and/or enforced such a law as being fully orthodox in their Christian theology. Professing Christian rulers in history have ranged in their theology from being orthodox (that is, Reformed Protestants) to heretical (for example, Roman Catholics).   

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